The circus is coming to town – that’s the only conclusion I can immediately draw from this post at Retraction Watch. It provides an update on something I blogged about last in 2014, the fallout from a retracted paper from the Martin group at UT-Austin. When last heard from, the university was trying to retract the PhD degree granted to Suvi Orr, a co-author on the paper. They did go ahead and do that, Orr sued, and UT reinstated the degree.
But now they’re taking another shot at retracting it, and Orr is back in court with them. The Austin American-Statesman has the story:
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, said UT officials revoked her degree but promptly reinstated it for “a do-over” during the first round of litigation. The suit contends that UT now plans to subject her to a “kangaroo court” whose members include undergraduate students lacking the expertise to interpret scientific data stemming from her research involving synthesis of chemicals. . .
Retraction Watch has a PDF available of the lawsuit as filed, and yikes. It accuses UT of basically throwing everyone else under the bus to protect Prof. Martin, and blames the third author (a post-doc) for what went wrong. This post-doc, the suit says, took over the project after Orr left with her degree:
A paper was published in which Prof. Martin was the leading author, and the post-doc and S.O. were coauthors of the journal article. S.O. intended and expected that the post-doc would fully characterize the compounds as part of reproducing her work. Unbeknownst to S.O., the post-doc instead made markings, scanned, and submitted experimental data containing S.O.’s file names and some incorrect (and inaccurate) pages as part of the journal article. On relevant issues related to Compounds P, Q, and R, he reached the same or similar conclusions as S.O. that are discussed in his post-doctoral final report. Nonetheless, the article was ultimately retracted, and the decision to retract was apparently made by Prof. Martin without input from his co-authors (S.O. and the post-doc).
The suit goes on to accuse Martin of somehow not encouraging Orr from obtaining an X-ray crystal structure of a key intermediate (this part is rather odd-sounding), and includes this allegation about the fallout from the published article:
Before the investigation was launched, Prof. Martin told S.O. in a phone conversation that there was a structural mistake in the journal article they published and that he would probably have to retract the article. He did not inform her that he had made a complaint against her. After S.O. learned that there was an investigation against her regarding the journal article she asked Prof. Martin about the details or meaning of the investigation. Prof. Martin told her to co-operate and admit misconduct to speed up the process.
UT is not commenting, as one would expect. The hearing is set to take place a month from now, and there will be quite a path to get to it, from all appearances. More details as they become available – if they do, because this looks, to my inexpert legal eyes, to have “out of court settlement” all over it. We’ll see.